Liquids referred to as “bitters” are usually made from fragrant, bitter-tasting herbs such as gentian or dandelion. While some fermented alcoholic bitters are a bartender’s secret weapon for tasty cocktails, others such as non-alcoholic Swedish bitters are marketed as handy digestive aids.
According to author Jeanine Pollak in “Healing Tonics,” bitters help make your digestive process more efficient. The bitter herbs stimulate the enzymes and fluids your body needs to digest food quickly and efficiently. By taking 1 tsp. of bitters before a meal, you’re priming your body for the process of digestion, which will likely result in fewer unpleasant side effects such as bloating or gas.
Better Nutrient Absorption
Pollak also notes that bitters can help your body absorb more nutrients from the food you eat. According to author Jim McDonald in “Llewellyn’s 2010 Herbal Almanac,” bitters signal your stomach to begin secreting gastrin, the hormone that controls how much acid your stomach produces.
If you don’t have enough stomach acid present during digestion, your body doesn’t fully break down the components of your food, including carbohydrates and protein. Even if you’re eating healthy, nutrient-packed food, there’s no guarantee your body absorbs all those nutrients; absorption depends on how much stomach acid is available to break down those foods.
Less Acid Reflux
McDonald also notes that too little acid rather than too much is a common cause of acid reflux. A low amount of stomach acid can damage your stomach tissues over the long run, which contributes to esophageal reflux. Taking bitters before a meal will stimulate your body’s natural acid production without the need for a dietary enzyme supplement.
Bitters can help ease constipation in two different ways. According to McDonald, bitters increase your natural production of bile. Bile helps your liver get rid of bodily waste and helps digested food travel down your small intestine on the way to excretion.
The almanac notes that dry intestines, deficient in lubricating bile, are a prime culprit when it comes to constipation. Bitters also stimulate your small intestine, making sure it produces enough digestive juices to aid in regular bowel movements.
Dr. James Duke writes that bitters help increase the appetite, which is especially useful for recovering invalids who need to eat in order to regain their strength. In “The Green Pharmacy,” Duke and co-author Michael Castleman note that taking bitters about 20 minutes before a meal signals your body to produce more saliva, bile and stomach acid, all of which make you feel hungry.